Johnathan McGriff’s incredible ballhandling and passing exploits in the video above don’t need much more explanation. The 14-year-old is an absolute wizard with the rock in his hands, already capable of mind-bending displays of creativity and flair normally reserved for professionals in pickup games – and he’s making them on the summer AAU circuit in meaningful competition.
High school, let alone its first half, is too early in any athlete’s development to anoint he or she a future star. So much projection is involved while assessing the prospects of relative youngsters at all levels of any sport, and the early teenage years leave a lot of room for it. But McGriff seems unique. Even if the rising freshman remains on the shorter side or struggles to hone ancillary aspects of his game, that handle and court vision will take him farther in basketball than most players ever get.
Size is a routine issue for prep ballhandling phenoms, though, and often serves as a detriment for NBA luminaries hoping to improve their floor game, too. Part of what makes McGriff such an incredible dribbler is that he’s so low to the ground. The ball bounces almost instantly from the floor back to his hand, allowing his next move to come far more quickly than defenders are accustomed.
Taller perimeter players don’t have that luxury, and the best playmakers among them compensate by bending at the waist when they put the ball on the hardwood. Think of Magic Johnson leading the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers in transition, exaggerating a forward lean and pushing the ball ahead with his chin down but eyes up.
That is the ideal for taller NBA wings, and it’s one extremely difficult to replicate – especially for those who lack the natural base of guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time not long ago when an obvious lack of comfort off the dribble seemed like it might keep Kevin Durant from reaching his sky-high potential. And while such thinking proved premature, it’s only because the nearly seven-foot sharp-shooter completely reworked the composition of his body while dribbling.
Andrew Wiggins faces a similar obstacle on the road to superstardom, while less talented players need to hone their handle just to carve out a lasting niche in the league. It’s hard. There’s no telling whether or not they’ll be able to do it.
Studying the young McGriff, his natural advantage and all, though, would certainly be a good start.